Times they 'R' a changin'
One of our staff, Thomas Schultze-Gerlach, has been providing R classes to our academics this semester: These words by Nobel laureate Bob Dylan are always true to some extent in a university context. However, some changes are more profound than others.
At QUB’s School of Psychology, we are currently experiencing profound change by making a transition from one statistics software (SPSS) to another (R). Our goal is to first upskill academic and research staff in the use of R and then roll it out to our undergraduate and graduate students. In doing so, our School joins a growing number of institutions both nationally and globally that adopt R as its main statistics software for teaching and research.
But why is R so popular? The answer is simple: it is more powerful and flexible, it has better support thanks to an amazing online community, and it is completely free to use. In addition, in times where there is an increasing demand for graduates to be data-savvy, proficiency in R is a great plus in terms of our students’ employability.
There is a drawback, though: R does not come with a graphic user interface. That means users have to write code in order to do work with their data and run their statistical analyses. In a sense, learning to work with R is like learning a new language with its own syntax and vocabulary.
As you can imagine, learning a new language can be taxing, sometimes frustrating, and for some people frightening. There is a German saying that roughly translates to: “Shared suffering is only half the suffering”. In this spirit, we decided to make learning R a collective experience.
The first half of our staff embarked on their journey at the beginning of this semester, dedicating their Friday mornings to learning R (the second half will start learning R next June). Now in their eighth week of training, participants of the Friday course can load their old SPSS data into R, clean the data, and run their own basic tests. This progress was hard-earned but learning R together has made the experience bearable for most and even enjoyable for some. Importantly, it has laid a strong foundation for our School’s transition to R.
The times are indeed a changin’ when it comes to doing statistics in psychology, and they are changing for the better. We can proudly say that QUB’s School of Psychology takes an active part in driving this change.